Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Immigrant Children Face Bleak Future, New Research Shows: Quality preschool, improved English instruction, and more postsecondary education would improve educational outcomes and the economic contributions of immigrants

With immigrant youth now making up one-quarter of all U.S. children – and projected to be one-third by 2050 -- their impact on the U.S. labor force in the coming years will be profound because these children are also more likely to experience poverty, face significant gaps in school readiness, and are less likely to have access to health care than their native-born peers. These and many additional facts are found in the new The Future of Children journal entitled “Immigrant Children,” published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

Specifically, The Future of Children volume recommends that the nation provide preschool education to all low-income immigrant children, improve English language instruction for school-age immigrant children, and pass a revised version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act that would allow undocumented adolescents brought as children to the United States to attend postsecondary institutions or join the military services and subsequently become citizens.

Research in the new volume focuses on the well-being of immigrant youth in the United States: demographic trends and family arrangements, educational trends and differentials, and youthful immigrants’ health status, social integration, and participation in welfare and other public programs. Key facts include:

• Depending on their country of origin, immigrant children vary widely in their educational achievement, legal and health status, living arrangements and economic resources. Some children, such as those of Mexican origin, tend to struggle; others, such as those of Asian and black Caribbean origin, tend to do well.

• Although participation in early childhood education programs can offset problems such as poverty, poor parental education, and language barriers, immigrant children attend such programs at lower rates than do native children. Barriers to participation in early education include affordability, availability, bureaucratic complexity, and distrust of government programs.

• Performance of immigrant children in K–12 education varies by generational status and national origin. Immigrant youths, even some from economically disadvantaged families, often outperform their native peers in school. Poor parental education, poor-quality schools, and segregated neighborhoods, however, pose risk factors for immigrant children generally.

• Immigrant youths from Asia and the Middle East are well represented in the nation’s postsecondary educational institutions; those from Latin America, Laos, and Cambodia, less so. The sharp rise in demand for skilled labor over the past few decades has made it urgent for the nation to provide access to postsecondary education for all immigrants, but especially for Latinos.

• Barriers to postsecondary education are especially formidable for youth who lack legal status despite having attended U.S. elementary and secondary schools and having qualified for admission to college. Because federal efforts to ease these barriers have stalled, state legislatures that have not already done so must address this issue.

• Achievement disparities between immigrant children who do not speak English fluently and English-proficient students are wide and persistent. Closing that achievement gap requires effective English language instruction so that immigrant children are fluent in English by third grade.

• Immigrant children are less likely than native children to have health insurance and regular access to medical care. Improving access to health care substantially influences the physical and emotional health status of immigrant children and can improve the long-term economic prospects of the next generation.

• Although disadvantaged immigrant families face formidable barriers to upward mobility, their children can overcome these obstacles through simultaneously learning the language and culture of the host society while preserving their home country language, values, and customs.

Addressing the challenge posed by poorly educated immigrant children is not only vital to the wellbeing of immigrant children themselves, but also important to ensuring our country’s future, noted Future of Children Issue Editor and Princeton Professor Marta Tienda. “Policies that bolster the development of young immigrants will produce an economic dividend for our aging population in the form of a larger and higher-earning workforce that contributes more to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds,” she said.

“Before arguing that undocumented minor children brought into the U.S. by their parents have done something wrong, it is important to embrace the tenets of U.S. law which holds that children are not fully responsible for their actions. We should do everything we can to support these children as they develop and contribute to our society,” said Issue Editor and Brookings Senior Fellow Ron Haskins.

Future of Children Journal: Immigrant Children - Volume 21 Number 1 Spring 2011 – papers:

• Demography of Immigrant Youth: Past, Present, and Future – by Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew Hispanic Center

• The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants – by Nancy S. Landale, Kevin J. A. Thomas, Jennifer Van Hook, Pennsylvania State University

• Early Care and Education for Children in Immigrant Families by Lynn A. Karoly and Gabriella C. Gonzalez, RAND

• Effective Instruction for English Learners – by Margarita Calderon and Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University and Marta Sanchez, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

• K–12 Educational Outcomes of Immigrant Youth – by Robert Crosnoe of University of Texas, Austin and Ruth N. Lopez Turley, Rice University • Immigrants in Community Colleges -- by Robert T. Teranishi, Carola Suarez-Orozco, and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, New York University

• Higher Education and Children in Immigrant Families – by Sandy Baum, Skidmore College and Stella M. Flores, Vanderbilt University

• The Physical and Psychological Well-Being of Immigrant Children – by Krista M. Perreira, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and India J. Ornelas, University of Washington

• The Adaptation of Migrant Children – by Alejandro Portes and Alejandro Rivas, Princeton University • Poverty and Program Participation among Immigrant Children – by George J. Borjas, Harvard University

To read the policy brief, click here.

The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families.


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